More than 8% of York County voters applied for mail-in, absentee ballots

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

About 24,000 people in York County have applied for either a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot for the June 2 primary, county officials said Wednesday.

That amounts to 8.3% of the county's 288,000 registered voters, a significant jump from the 2,900 absentee ballots requested during the 2016 presidential primary, said Steve Ulrich, director of the York County Department of Elections and Voter Registration.

"The staff is working literally day and night at this point to try to make sure we get everything not only processed, but then processed and out (to voters)," Ulrich said.

Voting by mail became a viable option for all Pennsylvania voters last year when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Act 77 election reform bill into law.

It turns out the change came just in time for the coronavirus pandemic, as more and more voters are taking advantage of the mail-in option to avoid exposure to other people, and the virus, at the polls.

As of Thursday, 45,763 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive for COVID-19, and there have been 2,292 virus-related deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 26 for the June 2 primary, but Ulrich said voters who know they want to vote by mail should apply as soon as possible, to give the elections department plenty of time to process the applications and get the ballots out.

Elections Director Steve Ulrich at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We do know that certainly, once it leaves our hands, we’re depending on the postal service to make sure it gets where it needs to go," Ulrich said. "And we have all confidence that the system will work."

York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Wednesday that the county and the elections department are "working rigorously" to make sure they can process all of the mail-in ballot applications in time for the primary.

Delivery of ballots to voters has been delayed in some cases because the state didn't certify the ballots until late March, Ulrich said, so it's taken longer than usual to get the ballots back from the printer and mailed out to voters.

The state has an online notification system designed to tell voters the status of their ballot application, and voters had been receiving an automated response saying their ballot would arrive in five to seven days, Ulrich said, leading many to call the elections office to ask why their ballot hadn't yet arrived.

Ulrich said his staff is sending out ballots in the order the applications were received, and he asked for patience and understanding from voters as the office deals with the unprecedented demand.

As of Wednesday, 533,764 people across the state have applied for mail-in ballots, and 141,034 people have applied for absentee ballots, for a total of 674,798 voters who will not vote in person for the primary, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

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